Women Going Backwards… Fast

Lazy, sexist, whinger: that’s what you’re labelled if you dare to complain about the gender pay gap.

So it seems from the comment streams after online stories, about the gap reaching a new high of 18.2 per cent, up 0.7 per cent. It’s the first time the figure has breached 18 per cent since data was collected in 1994.

“We are going backwards,” says Associate Professor Rae Cooper, women’s employment specialist at the University of Sydney Business School.

Men’s average ordinary full time weekly earnings is $1559.10, compared with $1275.90 for women. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, male salaries have increased by 2.9 per cent; women’s only 1.9 per cent.

But apparently these are “Mickey Mouse figures”, “damned lies” and “All Bullshit Statistics”, in the minds of outraged men.

Women are “lazy”, working fewer hours because they “put their social life first” and “never take on anything high-risk”.

My personal favourite is ‘Phillip’, who contends, “One way to make it all equal is for Women to be forced to work more hours about 20% more in fact. This would be very good for the economy as we all know women spend everything they receive (sic)”.

Memo, Phil. (Can I call ya Phil? Feel like I know you so well, from your considered comments and random capitalisation.): The ABS compares FULL TIME WEEKLY EARNINGS: women and men who work the same hours, not including overtime, part-time, casual, or shift work. It’s apples-and-apples.

And yes, women do make most household spending decisions, so surely it would be “good for the economy” to give them equal pay. In future, please read the article before having a brain fart.

Oh, hang on. Here’s another one: “Women should stay home have Babies and the Govt should make it SO with TAX/Social Security policy etc Go back to the 1950s when you could afford to own home on 1/4 block on 1 income,” he writes, with a charming disregard for punctuation.

So, because I’m capable of giving birth, I’m incapable of having a job? I probably shouldn’t have the right to vote either. Or ride a bike.


Sigh. I’m sorry. But I feel like a broken record.

The reasons for the gender pay gap are complex. That’s why sexist shit like this plays well in the tabloid media. It appeals to a visceral fear: losing one’s power. The real story is not so simple.

Reasons include:

  • Gender discrimination. A study by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling estimates, “60 per cent of the wage gap is due to either direct discrimination or other factors to do with being a woman”. These include employers’ assumptions about the types of career paths suitable for the fairer sex. When I began newsreading 25 years ago, my boss said I’d only need to do it for a few years because, “You’ll meet a nice rich businessman who can take care of you for the rest of your life”. I never got a payrise because that was supposed to be taken care of by the – ahem – Sugar Daddy.
  • Career breaks. Women do 70 per cent of society’s unpaid care work. “Taking career breaks and working part-time not only reduces women’s current income… their long-term earnings’ prospects may never fully recover,” according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. There’s a 7 per cent wage penalty for returning to work after 12 months’ parental leave; 12 per cent over the subsequent year. Decades after the Sugar Daddy conversation, I was asked by a superior, “Why would you want to return to work after having a baby? Don’t you just want to be a Mummy?”
  • Industrial. ‘Peter’ articulates this best: “When you work in a female dominated career like Nursing you soon realise who does the heavy lifting with challenging cases and hours. Just so there is no confusion its not the females.” As we see from this quote, female-dominated work is undervalued: compassionate caring is less important than heavy lifting. In other words, workplaces were designed BY men FOR men.

This interactive graph compares the gender pay gap, industry by industry. It’s highest in health care (30.7 per cent), financial services (30 per cent), and real estate (29 per cent).

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick (pictured right) says the data is, “alarming and depressing” and “bold measures” are now needed.

(“Why is the Sex Discrimination Commissioner always a woman? That’s sexist!” I read in several comment streams. That’s because women are paid less, and harassed more, in the workplace. Now “moving forward”, as someone once said…)

Ms. Broderick is calling for better childcare and anti-discrimination policies.

But I think we need more: a society-wide discussion about the real reasons behind the gap. And don’t discount mandatory reporting: It’s time to name and shame.

In the UK, Tesco has a gender pay gap of one per cent, compared with a national average of 10 per cent, after committing to publishing its figures.

Sometimes I think the problem is so big, I want to curl up in the corner and cry.

Really, it’s cradle-to-grave.

The median full time starting salary for male university graduates is $5000 more than for females.

Who wants their daughter to cop that?

At the end of our working lives, women retire with half as much superannuation as men.

Why should someone’s mother, or grandmother, live like that?

“Gender-based pay gaps… are one of the reasons women are substantially more likely to retire in poverty than are their male colleagues,” Associate Professor Rae Cooper says.

Aside from the emotive arguments, it’s good for the economy, Phil!

  • If the gap shrinks by one per cent, our GDP grows by 0.5 per cent.
  • Even at 17 per cent, the gap cost the economy $93 billion a year.
  • Removing the gap would add $56 billion, or 5.1 per cent to total annual GDP.

Let’s end the narrative of “political correctness”, “positive discrimination” and “special interest groups”, in the words of ‘Kim’ from Perth.

Instead, let’s focus on fairness, finances, and full disclosure.

Only then will we have full economic equality.